University at Buffalo
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Art & Design

Art History

Visual Studies

Juliet Koss, Scripps College, speaking on the total work of art

March 25, 2008  by: Dom

Juliet Koss, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Scripps College, will be speaking on the topic of the total work of art on Tues., April 15th at 1:15 in CFA 112.

The auditorium of Richard Wagner’s festival theater at Bayreuth, built in 1876 to present his music dramas, is famous for creating an uncertain relationship between the spectator’s body and the theatrical image. Numerous critics — from Camille Saint-Saëns in 1885 to Theodor Adorno in 1938 — have described this confusion of embodiment and opticality in terms of a loss of control, linking it to themes of intoxication, addiction, and sorcery long associated with Wagner’s music and his personality. “Invisible Wagner” lays bare the elements of this sorcery to perform what magicians call the “reveal.” Addressing the optical magic of the hovering stage image, the aural magic of the invisible orchestra, and the bodily phenomenon of the conductor who waves a baton like a magic wand, it traces these elements to Wagner’s notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art,” from 1849. The mysterious, dark secret of Bayreuth, I argue, is a notion of invisibility that not only allowed Wagner and his work to be aligned with National Socialism half a century after his death but also, and as a result, buried the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk itself within the heart of modernism.

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